When Corvallis resident Davey Porter agreed to design a novel cover, he couldn’t have known the assignment would spark a whirlwind adventure involving international intrigue (well, “intrigue” in a way that involves zero global peril), compelling new characters, exotic locales and an open-ended future — like something out of a movie.
In fact, that’s exactly what he did: a movie. A $1.5 million adaptation of a book called “Happy Endings Sleepover,” the first in a popular seven-part LGBTQ-themed series, to be exact. Its author, Cade Jay Hathaway, based it in part on his own life. Like the series’ main character, Johnnie Allen, the Washington-raised Hathaway went to Denmark as a CIA field transport supervisor and fell in love with a young Danish man, represented in fiction as Sander Lars Hansen. On the page their relationship blossoms against a backdrop of subterfuge and espionage.
As Porter and Hathaway worked on “Long Before Morning,” the book series’ third installment, the two began talking about Denmark, where Hathaway and his partner now reside. Porter knows quite a bit about the country, having lived there for six years in the 1990s. “Sleepover” had also just been optioned for a film, and Hathaway had questions about production. As it happens, Porter knows a lot about that too.
Before coming to the mid-valley in 2005, he lived in Southern California, working in and writing for television and film. When he lost his home in devastating brush fires that tore through the region that year, he and his wife, Kate, and their children made their way north to Oregon, where he’d once planned to retire, oh, someday, eventually.
“With the insurance, we decided we were at a crossroads,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “I said, ‘Look, honey, I can do my work from anywhere. If it’s post-production, it’s remote. If we produce, we’re going to go wherever that is, anyway. So let’s make the move now.’”
As vowed, Porter prospered, launching the Alsea Film Academy and continuing his work. Among the titles under his directorial belt: “The Boles Murders,” a 2004 documentary that revisited a 1965 cold case involving the mysterious deaths of an Orange County, California, family; the children’s television series “Nanna’s Cottage” and “Monster Sunday School” (2006-2007); and the feature-length “Last Flight of the Cosmonaut” (2014), which featured young English performer Robert Madge (“Les Miserables”), who Porter also captured on film in “On the Night: Robert Madge in Concert” (2013), shot in Corvallis.
His passion for every facet of the medium — especially post-production — remains palpable. (Keep this part in mind; it’ll come in handy later.)
“Everyone thinks the flash and glamour is on the set, and to an extent it is,” he said. “I won’t take that from anybody. But, really, films are crafted and finished in the post-production stage. That’s where performances are crafted. That’s where the timing is. That’s where you can hold back from the audience and then release a little bit more.”
With his experience, Porter became trusted counsel for Hathaway’s film-related concerns. Soon those questions turned into requests for production help. Then finally, the author, who’d struck a rather savvy deal that gave him approval over casting and director, straight-up asked, “What do you think about directing it?”
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Porter’s four-word reply, verbatim: “’That’d be freakin’ awesome.’”
“If it’s a good, viable project, you want to be a part of it,” he explained. “Once I became part of it and got to know its back story and saw how sweet and gentle and beautiful the characters are, and how much anybody who knows a gay kid in their lives wants to bring something to bear that they can say will touch them and make them feel without a doubt that they’re important and are loved — that became part of my heart.”
“Happy Endings Sleepover” went into production in 2017 and was filmed in Denmark and Germany over a year-long stretch. The company managed its $1.5 million budget wisely in a region with a high standard of living; Porter equated it to an $800,000 shoot in the United States. Most everyone worked for minimum scale. Hathaway wrote the script himself. Rewrites were minimal, in large part because the author intuitively grasped the differences between the demands of literature and film.
“He delivered one of the tightest, most well-rounded screenplays I have ever seen based on an existing work,” Porter said. “There’s a reason Stephen King doesn’t write his own (film) versions of his hit books, and it’s because every word in a book is your baby. Cade realized, ‘If I do every scene in this book, it’s going to be a nine-hour movie. I have to cull.’ And he did so with great aplomb and feeling. When he turned the script in, I said, ‘Here’s the deal: The book is the book. This is the script. We’ll just say we borrowed the characters from the book, along with some of its important storylines, and made something new.’ He said, ‘That’s how I’m looking at it, too.’”
Scenes were shot sequentially to honor the story’s development over changing seasons, as Johnnie (Jeppe Fogsgaard) and Sander (Jonas Kyed) fall in love. This allowed Porter and his team to edit footage during production breaks — quarterly post-production sessions, if you will — a process the director found artistically satisfying and critical to the direction of the film itself.
“You get to start to see elements start to come together, and there’s nothing more exciting than that,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’d get a call from an actor: ‘Do you think I could come by and look at some of my scenes?’ Because we were doing it that way, I could do that for them. It also gave me a chance to stop and think, take a breath, before getting to the next sequence. We could make changes. We could even change ways of doing things. We could gather our wits, and I could start seeing things that weren’t going to work from the earlier shoot. So when we got back together again to continue, I could bring something to the table.”
It also made the final post-production stage much faster, with a complete rough cut distributed eight days after wrap. Within three months, following notes and last-minute changes, “Happy Endings Sleepover” was a ready, finished film.
Porter remains touched by its reception, starting with the world premiere at the San Antonio QFest in October. “Happy Endings Sleepover” has been also welcomed into London’s Rainbow Umbrella Film Festival and, far more locally, Corvallis’ Oregon State International Film Festival, where it’s set for a 2 p.m. screening Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Whiteside Theatre, 361 SW Madison Ave., where Porter and “Sleepover” supporting actor Anton Lund Larsen will be on hand for a question-and-answer session. It’s among 41 films from 22 countries playing at either the Whiteside or Darkside Cinema from Jan. 10-14. (See info box for event/ticket details.)
“That is the coolest thing ever,” Porter said. “People I know here locally and from elsewhere will get to actually see it on the big screen. And that right there is — that’s a treat. Not only that, to be able to see it at the Whiteside, this beautifully restored silent movie house — I mean, come on, man. I’m just over the moon about that. And, of course, Anton is going to capture as much as he can on his phone so he can share with all of our friends back in Denmark.”
“Sleepover’s” enjoyed an even more robust life online, receiving more than 3 million total unique streams via Amazon Prime since its October debut on the service. That, along with 44 reviews left by viewers — as well as the books’ devoted following — was enough to attract the provider’s attention on a more, shall we say, beneficial level. According to Porter, Amazon has optioned the “Johnnie & Sander” series on a case-by-case basis, with “Sleepover’s” followup, “Sander’s Courage,” already greenlit — this time as six one-hour episodes. This means a larger budget ($4.3 million) and a bigger cast, plus action on a nuclear submarine, newer locales and the freedom to shoot sequences for multiple episodes at the same time. What hasn’t changed: Hathaway’s overall deal and his choice of director: Davey Porter, who’s excited about returning to Denmark this spring.
“The people are very kind and very united,” he said of the country, “and I think that, if anything, is missing from present-day America. I think the united part of ‘United States’ has been left in the dust somewhere. People come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, like they do here, but there is a Danish unity that is just so calming. I really wanted to get Denmark right in the film. I was very proud to take Cade’s book and do it justice. He says I did it justice more than he expected. Someone sent me an email that said, 'Thanks for the love letter to my country.’ If nothing ever happens from it from this point on, it’s been a success.”